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How ONE FC's new policy can revolutionize MMA

FEATURED COLUMNIST
Feature
25 Dec 2015, 13:08 IST
Johny Hendricks’ botched weight cut once again led to wide criticism of the existing system

Weight cuts – one of the most talked about aspects of the MMA game has recently come under scrutiny yet again. Weight cuts are done to ensure fairness among the fighters; every fighter has an optimum weight at which he or she can fight at their peak. With various diets (read Dolce diet) providing the fighters with an alternative, some of the fighters tend to go overboard with extreme weight cuts.

The most notable instance was Johny Hendricks’ botched weight cut during UFC 192, and the former UFC welterweight champion was diagnosed with intestinal blockage.

The science of cutting weight is difficult to understand, but an important one for the fighters to comprehend. In the past, botched weight cuts not only affected the health of the fighters, but on a couple of occasions proved to be fatal.

According to reports (taken from Bleacher Report), back in the late 90s, three collegiate wrestlers unfortunately passed away as a result of extreme weight cuts. This forced NCAA to monitor the athlete’s hydration during the weight cut, as well as enforcing more stringent regulations on weight cutting.

If the results of a botched weight cut are as serious as presumed, why isn’t more attention being given to the importance of a proper weight cut? To put it in simple terms, almost 60% of the human adult body is made of water.

Fighters normally dehydrate themselves before the weigh-ins, which gives them 24 hours after the weigh-ins to rehydrate and go back to their normal weight. This is usually done in two ways – either use IVs for rehydration, or opt for oral rehydration.

However, certain organizations (note: UFC) have banned the use of IVs, resulting in the fighters having no other alternative but to go for oral rehydration.

Differences between IVs and oral rehydration

Most of the organizations have their weigh-ins a day before the fight – say 24 hours between the weigh-ins and the night of the fight. This gives the fighters 24 hours to rehydrate themselves – 24 hours to get back their strength.

The issue with this however, is the extent of weight a fighter cuts to make the weight of his/her division. For example, if the normal walking weight of a fighter is around 170 lbs, and they have to make weight for a fight in the lightweight division (155 lbs), they need to lose 15 lbs during the weigh-ins.

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That would imply that a fighter needs to gain that weight back in 24 hours to perform at his peak.

There have been extensive studies done in this department to better understand the impact of cutting weight. While I will not dwell into the actual science (will take that up with an actual fighter and how they cut weight), it has been seen that if a fighter dehydrates as little as 2% of their body weight, their performance will decrease by 5%!

This has to do with the amount of blood the heart needs to be filled with, for the heart to perform at its optimum condition throughout the rounds. When the fighter dehydrates to make weight, it results in a decreased cardiac output.

This highlights the importance of rehydrating, and IVs have a clear advantage, in the sense that the fighter can get back 1.5 liters of saline in about 45 minutes. The same could be done with oral rehydration, although it would take around a few hours – few precious hours for the fighters between the weigh-ins and the fight.

Change in ONE FC’s policy

Earlier in 2013, a Brazilian MMA fighter by the name of Leandro Souza tragically passed away while trying to cut weight. While this, along with a long list of athletes who suffered adverse effects of weight cutting highlighted the need for more stringent regulations, the recent tragic death of a ONE FC fighter came as a much needed jolt.

Yang Jian Bing, who competed in the Flyweight division of ONE FC, was scheduled to fight Geje Eustaquio at ONE Championship 35. However, Bing unfortunately passed away while trying to cut weight, and his death served as a catalyst in bringing about a change in the organization’s policy on weight cuts.

Yang Jian Bing unfortunately passed away two weeks ago

This has prompted ONE FC to urge their fighters to compete at their walking weight, which will be determined by a “robust system” that will track his/her weight on a regular basis. While there are a few iffy arguments – such as the need for shuffling of divisions, this would indeed revolutionize the entire sport of MMA. CEO of ONE FC, Victor Cui stated: 

ONE Championship has paved the way for MMA in Asia and we have always been at the forefront of innovation for the sport. By banning weight cutting by dehydration, we are leading the way globally for enhanced safety standards for professional MMA athletes. We believe that through the implementation of this new weigh-in program, our fighters will enjoy a safer and healthier life inside and outside of the cage. I invite the other two major global MMA organizations, Bellator and UFC, to follow in our footsteps to protect athletes and to eliminate the process of weight cutting by dehydration.”

What it essentially implies is a much safer and healthier alternative for the fighters, something that the MMA community should embrace. For example, someone like Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, who walks around at 175 pounds, doesn’t need to shed 30 pounds to fight at featherweight. While the notion of someone shedding 30 pounds (nearly 20% of her actual weight) in a few days sounds ludicrous, that is exactly what the new system can eliminate.

ONE FC’s new program is as follows:

1. Athletes must submit their current walking weight and daily training weight regularly. Athletes will input and track their daily weight online via a dedicated web portal. Athletes may input data weekly but must include daily weights.

2. Athletes will be assigned to their weight class based on collated data and random weight checks. Athletes are not allowed to drop a weight class when less than 8 weeks out from an event.

3. During fight week, weights are checked daily. Urine specific gravity will also be checked the day after arrival and 3 hours prior to the event.  Athletes must be within their weight class and pass specific gravity hydration tests all week and up to 3 hours before the event.  If an athlete falls outside the weight, or fails a test, they are disqualified from the event.  Doctors may request additional testing at their discretion.

4. Catch weight bouts are allowed. However, the athlete with the higher weight will not be heavier than 105% of the lighter opponent’s weight.

5. ONE will conduct random weight checks on athletes at our discretion.

6. Athletes may petition to change weight classes outside of the 8-week competition zone and must be within their new desired weight at that time. In addition, athletes must pass a specific gravity urine test when their weight is within the limits of the newly petitioned weight class. ONE doctors can request additional testing to determine the amount of weight drop allowed over a specific time.

7. The usage of IVs for the purpose of rehydration will not be allowed.

Overage and limits of weight reduction:

  •  3 weeks to event day: Athlete must be within contracted weight class
  •  4 weeks: 1.5% bodyweight over max
  •  5 weeks: 3%
  •  6 weeks: 4.5%
  •  7 weeks: 6%
  •  8 weeks: +6% max over.

(ONE Chief Doctor may approve up to +/- 0.5% maximum error in any weekly weight check)

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